The daughter of a Chilean diplomat, Isabel Allende was born in Lima, Peru. Following her parents’ divorce, she lived first with her grandparents in Santiago and later with her mother and stepfather in Europe and the Middle East. She returned to Chile as a young woman and began her career as a television and newsreel journalist and as a writer for a feminist journal.
In 1973, Allende found herself at the center of Chile’s turbulent political life when her uncle and godfather, the country’s Marxist president Salvador Allende, was assassinated during a military coup. In the months that followed, Allende worked to oppose the new dictatorship headed by General Pinochet until fears for her safety led Allende to move to Venezuela with her husband and two children.
Allende’s first novel, The House of the Spirits, was published to international acclaim. It is a family saga set against a backdrop of political upheaval in an unnamed South American country. Her second book, Of Love and Shadows, followed two years later and also drew on her country’s troubled history. Both works placed Allende firmly within the Latin American tradition of novels that take a strong stand in their fictionalized portrayals of political events. Allende’s third novel, Eva Luna, traces the extraordinary life of its title character and the Austrian journalist who becomes her lover. All three novels are examples of the literary style known as Magical Realism, in which strange, supernatural occurrences are intermingled with everyday events. Allende’s work, however, brings a distinctly feminist perspective to a literary style that is predominantly male.
Following her divorce from her husband of twenty years, Allende moved to the United States in the 1980’s, where she remarried and settled in California. Her next novel, The Infinite Plan, draws on her American experience in its story of a man’s life from his childhood in the barrios of Los Angeles to his adult search for meaning and happiness. In 1995, Allende published one of her most personal works, Paula, a chronicle of her daughter’s death following a long illness. Allende examines her experience as a woman and a mother in her portrayal of love, pain, and loss.
Allende’s position as a woman working within the traditions of Latin American literature has led her to create strikingly original stories and characters, and she remains a consistently intriguing and rewarding writer.